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Caribbean Theme Park Proposed in Frenchtown

Feb. 8, 2009 — Two local developers want to create a Caribbean theme park, the V.I. Heritage Center, on an undeveloped Frenchtown hillside.
A look at the project was presented Friday night by attorney John Amerling on behalf of clients Gordon Coffelt and Soraya Diase-Coffelt at the Frenchtown Community Center before a handful of local residents.
Amerling detailed the nuts and bolts of the multi-million dollar development, which would span 8.5 acres of undeveloped property along Careen Hill. Soraya Coffelt showed photos depicting the project and similar ones throughout the world.
The project is designed as several thematically integrated components, all based on V.I. and Caribbean history and culture, somewhat similar to the Polynesian Cultural Center concept in Hawaii, Coffelt said.
One of the attractions would be an amphitheater presenting historical dramas based on various times in V.I. history, Coffelt said.
"For example, one planned drama centers around the emancipation of the slaves by Gov. Peter Von Sholten," he said. "There are about 100 outdoor drama theaters throughout the U.S., all of which focus on some aspect of an area's history."
The plans include a 250-seat IMAX theater, a 1,000-seat amphitheater, museum, restaurant, West Indian craft village, and shops.
The residents were more concerned with the impact the project would have on traffic and noise in the area than with the elaborate plans.
Leon Danet pointed out that the one road leading to the area is in bad repair right now. The road goes past Addelita Cancryn Junior High School and continues to the ramp to the water at the base of the landfill.
Noise was another consideration. In response to questions, Amerling said he believes the noise will be deflected by the topography of the hill and the developers' plan for the majority of traffic to come by water.
The V.I. Port Authority board reviewed the proposal at its January meeting. The project would require amendments to two of VIPA's leases, one held by Ackley Media and the other by Michael Ball of Miami Cars. The amendments are a small component of the proposed development.
The project is still in the very early planning stages and will require review by permitting agencies, including the Coastal Zone Management Commission and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
If VIPA approves the concept and all goes according to plan, Amerling said, the permit process may take eight to nine months. Construction could take as little as 1.5 years.
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